What San Diego is Doing Wrong: Housing Law 101

by on November 2, 2017 · 6 comments

in San Diego

By Parisa Ijadi-Maghsoodi / San Diego UrbDeZine / October 27, 2017

Instead of taking concrete steps to address the growing housing affordability crisis, San Diego has done nothing for years.  Now, faced with nationwide criticism for its mishandling of a Hepatitis A outbreak that was caused by the mistreatment of a growing homeless population, City leaders are wondering what went wrong.

First, San Diego gave its public housing authority, San Diego Housing Commission, free reign to opt out of following federal laws aimed at protecting housing subsidy recipients.  As a result, San Diego Housing Commission has and continues to create policies that adversely impact the low-income tenants for whom it receives federal funding to protect. One example – SDHC’s Community Choices program encourages low-income families to spend 50% of their income on rent.

Second, San Diego is allowing SDHC to implement Trump pro-segregation policies instead of requiring that SDHC follow the previous HUD Small Area Fair Market Rent Rule, which it still can do but is no longer required to under federal law.  As I stated in my August article, San Diego was among 23 metropolitan areas targeted by the Obama Administration to desegregate because of San Diego’s high concentration of Housing Choice Voucher Program participants living in concentrated, segregated low-income areas.  In other words, San Diego was told to desegregate because San Diego’s leaders allowed San Diego to become so racially segregated.  However, Trump suspended the mandatory implementation of the Obama-era desegregation rule. San Diego could still have continued to desegregate but instead is allowing SDHC to further racial segregation.  Read my letter to SDHC CEO Richard Gentry urging SDHC to continue desegregation efforts.

Third, San Diego has allowed SDHC to delay updating the Housing Choice Voucher Program (“Section 8”) payment standards.  As a result, low-income families are forced to use housing subsidies that are based on 2015 market rents instead of subsidies that reflect current market rents.  SDHC is preventing families from finding homes because landlords have increased rents over the past two years and SDHC is actively delaying updating voucher values to keep up with the increased rents.

Fourth, unlike similarly situated cities, San Diego has failed to pass effective local tenants’ rights ordinances.  The City’s “Tenants Right to Know” ordinance, San Diego Municipal Code Section § 98.0701 et seq., is ineffective.  Its drafters either did not understand how the judicial system works or were unaware of the practicalities tenants must address during evictions.  Despite being on the books for years, the City has failed to make the simple fixes that could make the ordinance effective – simply remove exemption § 98.0725(b) to afford all families the same protections under the law regardless of source of income and delineate the limited circumstances under which a tenancy can be ended for repair or construction work in § 98.0730(g).

Fifth, San Diego’s single room occupancy (“SRO”) ordinances are outdated and ineffective.  If San Diego actually analyzed the impact SRO conversions, demolitions, and rehabilitations have had on homeless San Diegans, San Diego would significantly increase the financial and non-financial assistance provided to displaced tenants.

Sixth, San Diego has no “Ban the Box” ordinance.  Unlike similarly situated cities, San Diego has no local ordinance that prevents discrimination against formerly incarcerated people, who are disproportionately affected by homelessness.  Instead of removing barriers to  housing for people with past criminal convictions, San Diego allows landlords to openly discriminate which exacerbates San Diego’s homeless crisis.

Seventh, San Diego doesn’t have a source of income discrimination ordinance despite these ordinances being enacted and upheld in court in jurisdictions throughout California.  San Diego allows landlords and housing providers to refuse to rent to a person solely because they are on housing assistance, and permits landlords and housing providers to give preference to prospective tenants whose income is earned from employment as opposed to receiving a government subsidy.

Eighth, not only does San Diego not have rent control, it doesn’t even have an anti-harassment ordinance to prohibit a landlord or housing provider from failing to perform repairs, threatening to evict, abusing the right to access, and threatening the tenant with word or gesture.  As similarly situated cities have found, an effective local anti-harassment ordinance is vital to protecting the rights of low-income tenants.  State law is not sufficient.

These are some very basic and long overdue steps that can bring San Diego into the mainstream with similarly situated cities.  Relative to other cities, San Diego is neglecting and ignoring its ever expanding homelessness and housing affordability crisis.  The above article discusses tenant rights–stay tuned for an article about how San Diego has failed to implement progressive housing development policies.

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

RB November 2, 2017 at 3:25 pm

If the government wants more low income housing, they should build it.
If the government wants more private development, they should reduce taxes (sales tax, property tax, development fees, etc) and regulation.
And if you can’t afford to live in San Diego, you should consider somewhere that is affordable.


Mark E. Smith November 2, 2017 at 4:08 pm

Some of San Diego’s housing shenanigans might require a rocket scientist to unravel.

As best my poor feeble mind can attempt to understand it, the San Diego Housing Commission (SDHC) owns Housing Development Partners (HDP), a housing developer specializing in renovating low-income housing. The largest part of the money that SDHC has been accused of hoarding, rather than using to house the homeless, consists of loans to developers like, and most probably including, HDP, which SDHC owns. So SDHC apparently loans money to itself, but often cannot or does not collect on the loans.

These loans, it appears, cannot be repaid until the developer pays off their loans or sells the buildings, neither of which seem possible. So the money is on the books as unrestricted assets, but cannot be used because SDHC doesn’t have it–the corporation SDHC owns has it, or at least some of it, or already spent it, or has it earmarked to be spent so that it can’t be touched.

If I was given federal tax money for a purpose, and, instead of using it for that purpose, I loaned it to myself and then couldn’t or didn’t pay it back, I suspect I’d be in big trouble, particularly if the purpose for which I’d been given the money had never been accomplished. But I went to their Audit Committee meeting this morning, and SDHC doesn’t seem to be in any trouble at all, apart from some media misunderstanding them.

In this case, since I can’t understand SDHC finances myself, I certainly don’t blame the media.


John O. November 3, 2017 at 3:48 pm

San Diego’s housing policy is designed for profit and developers. Plain and simple. That is where the money comes from. Add in the fact that existing homeowners want to keep density low and their own prices high… well, here we are. The pendulum has swung too far to the well to do, and something should be done to help people that would like to own a home (even a modest condo with reasonable HOAs) instead of lining the pockets of their landlords, REITS, and developers. There is a portion of the population that is struggling due to medium-low income potential that will never be able to save. That population will certainly cost all of us more in the long run (healthcare, social services, retirement). The idea of community and taking care of one another has been replaced with give me as much as I can take. Legislation should be passed to limit the amount of properties a person can own for rental purposes. Or additional fees should be assessed on those properties owners. This in turn may allow some inventory to come on the market with current assessments, thereby generating more property tax.


Rufus November 4, 2017 at 5:00 am

If you want less expensive homes and apartments that charge less rent, you have to encourage the building of more housing. If you don’t want urban spral, you’ll have to increase the density of existing housing in the city.

As long as San Diegans refuse to allow taller apartment complexes, more houses per block, or a higher FAR, our housing crisis will continue.

The solution is not more government housing.


Roderick T. Long November 4, 2017 at 9:52 pm

Sorry to quibble but:

“Free rein,” not “free reign.” The metaphor comes from horses, not kings.


Doug Blackwood November 5, 2017 at 6:35 pm

No one mention the effect of: Vacation Rentals on affordable housing, & the fact that:they are a cancer on our communities, for a number of reasons!
How about converting the former Downtown Library (vacant) into affordable rentals?
Why is Lorie Z (our rep), silent on this crucial issue?
The stadium site is perfect for affordable housing. How many of those do developers promise to earmark for average San Diegoans ?


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